Kaikoura is a coastal town on the East Coast of the South Island. Located in a rocky peninsula,Kaikoura has a population of 3,600 people. Due to its unique location and the existence of deep ocean canyons, it is a hub for wildlife, plant-life and has stunning scenery to boot. In fact, the town’s name means “meal of crayfish”. Where there is wildlife, there comes people, and up until 1964 whaling took place around Kaikoura. Realising that this was not sustainable the town turned away from this bloody past and embraced their natural heritage and tourism. It is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in New Zealand. The residents have managed to balance this boost of visitors with environmental sustainability and it has received the Green Globe tourist standard.
Whale Watch Kaikoura
The main attraction in Kaikoura is whale watching. Kaikoura is based in the centre of currents and tides that provide a nutrient rich environment for whales. Mostly male whales visit as it is too cold for the females who prefer warmer waters further north. Sperm whales are the most common species that visit Kaikoura, in particular adolescence males who like to feed before moving to breeding grounds.
We chose to go on a whale watching tour with Whale Watch Kaikoura. The tours depart from the “Whaleway station” which the KiwiRail train drops you to. There is also a facility for locking up bags in the station so you can drop and go straight onto the tour.
The tour itself takes place on a boat with an upper deck for viewing. While the boat is moving all the passengers are seated inside so nobody falls overboard! Sitting down isn’t dull however, and we were treated to a wonderful series of informal, relaxed lectures about whales, the environment, other local wildlife, and the history of the area. There were screens with animated visual aids to help us picture the topics that were being discussed. You could also gaze out the window looking for water being shot up into the air, the sign that a whale had surfaced nearby!
Every now and then the boat would stop and we could go up onto the upper deck. There was so much to look at including the beautiful Kaikoura Peninsula and the wide ocean vista. A real treat for me was seeing albatross in the wild for the first time, their size is amazing and the fact that they fly is just brilliant. We even got to see some Hutton’s Shearwaters who are Kaikoura natives as they only breed in the hills above the town.
Spotting the whales themselves was really something special. We got to see two male sperm whales that day which is quite a good result for a whale watching trip. I am astounded by how the crew managed to spot the whales, as when they have surfaced as you can still only see the top of their heads. The rest of their bodies are hidden, submerged under the water. That is why they give the tip of looking for the water in the air, rather than the whales themselves. No electronic scanning equipment is used to track the whales as it interferes with their voices, causing them distress and putting the whales in danger. The most high tec they get is a listening device which emits no sound.
Seeing the whales in the water was one of those moments you will never forget. The sheer size of the whales was amazing, my head could barely comprehend it. The crew knew both of the whales and while was were gazing at them, we heard stories about their lives in Kaikoura and their personalities. The highlight came when the whales decided to dive and their tales came out of the water. It was wonderful and the crew gave us a good seven second tip off to we all had out cameras ready.
It was really sad to hear about the numbers of these magnificent creatures being killed each year by the fishing industry, pollution, and by countries claiming that the kills are for “scientific research” (giving you side-eye, Japan.) The guides spoke passionately about the need to protect these magnified animals and I could not agree more. Seeing them in the wild is something that cannot be matched on tv or in a Seaworld. If you go to New Zealand, a whale watch trip is unmissable.
But it isn’t just whales that the town of Kaikoura is interested in helping. The little Hutton’s Shearwaters, who I mentioned earlier, are at risk. Whale Watch Kaikoura donated land to assist with breeding programmes and the Hutton’s Shearwater charitable trust does fantastic work. I dare you to look at the photos of their chick feeding programme and not squee.
The tour really is a must for any lover of nature visiting the town. But a quick warning, if there is a sea sickness warning take tablets. We had a few people ill on our boat and the sea can be very rough.
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